by Monika Roots, M.D., Teladoc Senior Medical Director for Behavioral Health
May is National Mental Health Month and advocacy groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) are taking the opportunity to remind the public—including employers—about the pervasiveness of mental illness, shortfalls in care and economic impacts:
This year, NAMI is asking the public to take the “Stigma-Free Pledge” and MHA is promoting a social media campaign—”Life with a Mental Illness”—calling on people to share their experiences. Both themes are built around the idea of replacing stigma with hope. It’s an important message, because the social stigma associated with mental illness remains a major barrier to care.
But even if we could wave a magic wand and remove the problem of stigma tomorrow, we’d still have formidable obstacles standing in the way of behavioral health care. Topping the list is lack of access to providers. Access issues include shortages of behavioral health professionals and geographic limitations. In fact, the federal government has designated nearly 4,000 U.S. counties as “health professional shortage areas” specifically for mental health. Cost of care is another major obstacle, even among insured Americans.
Working Americans often face additional challenges—demanding work schedules, commutes and family obligations—that can make it difficult to find time for in-person appointments during regular office hours. And, sadly, people who would most benefit from care are often least able to make the trip to a provider.
The bright spot in this otherwise gloomy picture is telehealth. I’m hard pressed to think of a single area of medicine better suited to telehealth than behavioral health care. Telehealth not only addresses the problems of access, strained resources, inconvenience and cost of care, but also helps overcome the stigma barrier. Patients can access care in the comfort and privacy of their homes or a location of their choosing.
The inevitable question that arises is whether we can provide remotely delivered behavioral health care with the same level of quality as an in-person office visit. I’d argue that we can deliver it with even higher quality. At Teladoc, we’re implementing behavioral telehealth with an extensive quality assurance process that includes evidence based clinical guidelines, psychometric tools used for baseline assessment and progress monitoring with the aid of data analytics to analyze longitudinal outcomes. Electronic health records help avoid silos and ensure coordination of general and behavioral health care. We’re harnessing technology on multiple levels to improve the quality, efficiency and convenience of care.
As mental health advocates continue to raise awareness and chip away at the problem of social stigma associated with behavioral health care, Teladoc’s behavioral health services will continue knocking down other barriers to care. And we’ll deliver that care with industry-leading quality.